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Jorge Carrera Andrade

Poems from

Century Of The Death Of The Rose: Selected Poems, 1926-1976

translated from the Spanish by Steven Ford Brown
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Anonymous Speech

COMRADES: the world is built upon our dead
and our feet have created all the roads.
Also, beneath every sky, there is not an inch of shadow
for those of us who made the cupolas bloom.

Bread, blonde grandchild of the sower, a roof
- foliage of clay and sun that shelters the family - ,
the right to love and walk freely are not ours:
we are the slave traders of our own lives.

Happiness, that sea we’ve never seen,
the cities we’ll never visit
we lift up in our clenched fists like fruit,
announcing the most serious harvest of all time.

Only the right to die, comrades of the world!
A hundred hands divide the offerings of the earth.
Already the time has come to hurl ourselves into the streets and plazas
to reclaim the Work we ourselves built.

Biography for the Use of Birds

I was born in the century of the death of the rose
when the motor had already driven out the angels.
Quito watched as the last stagecoach rolled away,
and at its passing trees ran by in perfect order,
and also hedges and houses of new parishes,
at the threshold of the countryside
where cows were slowly chewing silence
as wind spurred on its swift horses.

My mother, clothed in the setting sun,
stored her youth deep in a guitar
and only on certain evenings would she show it to her children,
wrapped in music, light, and words.
I loved the hydrography of rain,
yellow fleas on apple trees,
and toads that rang two or three times
their thick wooden bells.

The great sail of the air manuevered endlessly.
The cordillera was a shore of the sky.
A storm came, and as drums rolled
its drenched regiments charged;
but then the sun’s golden patrols
restored translucent peace to the fields.
I watched men embrace barley,
horsemen sink into sky,
and laden wagons pulled by lowing oxen
travel down to the mango-fragrant coast.

There was a valley with farms
where dawn set off a trickle of roosters,
and to the west was a land where sugarcane
waved its peaceful banner, and cacao trees
stored in coffers their secret fortunes,
and the pineapple girded on its fragrant cuirass,
the nude banana its silken tunic.

It has all passed, in successive waves,
just as the useless ciphers of sea foam pass.
Entangled in seaweed, the years went by slowly
as memory became scarcely a water-lily,
its drowned face
looming up between two waters.
The guitar is only a coffin for songs
as the cock with its head wound laments
and all the earth’s angels have emigrated,
even the dark brown angel of the cacao tree


Fruit seller church
seated at the corner of life:
crystal orange windows,
the sugar cane organ.

Angels: little chicks
of Mother Mary.

The blue-eyed bell
wanders off on bare feet
throughout the countryside.

Sun clock:
angelic burro with its innocent sex;
wind, in Sunday best,
bringing news from the mountains.

Indian women with loads of vegetables
embracing foreheads.

The sky rolls up its eyes
when it sees the church bell
run barefoot from the church.

Ecuadorian Man under the Eiffel Tower

You turn into a plant on the coasts of time.
With a chalice of round sky
and tunnel for traffic,
you are the largest ceiba tree on earth.

The painter’s eye climbs up
through your scissor-stairs to blue.
Over a flock of roofs you stretch your neck
like a llama of Peru.

Robed in folds of wind,
with an ornamental comb of constellations,
you loom over
the circus of the horizon.

Mast of an adventure upon time!

Pride of five hundred and thirty cubits.

Pole of the tent raised by men
in a corner of history.
With gaseous lights your sketch in the night
reproduces the Milky Way.

First letter of a cosmic Alphabet,
pointing towards sky,
hope standing on stilts,
a glorified skeleton.

Iron that brands a flock of clouds,
mute sentinel of an Industrial Age.

The tides of heaven
silently undermine your column.


In bookstores there are no books,
in books no words,
in words no essence:
there are only husks.

In museums and waiting rooms
are painted canvases and fetishes.
In the Academy there are only recordings
of the wildest dances.

In mouths there is only smoke,
in the eyes only distance.
There is a drum in each ear.
A Sahara yawns in the mind.

Nothing frees us from the desert.
Nothing saves us from the drum.
Painted books shed their pages,
becoming husks of Nothing.

Power Of The Word

You, panther and statue, angel of fruit,
sexual bread shop, monument of wheat,
with throat pierced by the dart
of a sudden word, have fallen into shadows.

Oh deadly and fiery word that arrives
to engrave itself so accurately in marble,
like the rifle that blindly strikes down
the soldier from a distance.

Panther of wheat, you now lie like
a toppled statue on an empty beach.
The sea foam of oblivion washes up around you -
O prone pillars where doves nest!

Blue lightning of the word
has scattered your useless wings and fruit,
and, in shadows, your abandoned body is
a frigid bread shop washed out by the moon.

Sketch Of Contemporary Man

The world is covered with cradles
that sing in the night.

Man lives accumulating blocks of stone
for the houses of the future man.

Weighed down by climates,
making his way among towers, chimneys and antennae,
a traveler each day in his own city,
he is shipwrecked by five o’clock
among an electric vegetation of advertisements.

Master of machines,
he lives in skyscrapers.
You are in the North, South, East and West:
white man, yellow man, black man.

In his hands bloom
itineraries of boats and trains.
Nourished by newspapers
mornings are summed up in his eyes.

The railroad plows through the earth,
turning up shavings of landscapes;
piloted by the man with perfect hands
an airplane rises against the geography.

Man shouts
in Mexico and Berlin, in Moscow and Buenos Aires
as his telegrams cover the planet.

This is the landscape of our night:
the city girds on its belt of trains,
as searchlights extend their snail’s antenna
and an airplane, a celestial shipwreck, descends.

Man, inventor of the future, arises
surrounded by machines,
posters of Lenin, street plans of New York
and panoramas of the world.

Loneliness of Cities

Without knowing my number,
enclosed by walls and borders,
I walk around with a prisoner’s moon
and perpetual shadow chained to my ankle.

Living frontiers arise
a step beyond my footsteps.

There is neither north nor south, east or west,
only a multiplied loneliness exists,
a loneliness divided by a cipher of men.
Time’s race around the circus of the clock,
luminous navels of streetcars,
bells with athletic shoulders,
walls that spell out two or three colored words,
are the materials of loneliness.

Image of solitude:
bricklayer singing on a scaffold,
fixed raft in the sky.
Images of solitude:
a traveler submerged in a newspaper,
a waiter hiding a photograph in his vest pocket.

The city has a mineral appearance.
Urban geometry is less beautiful
than the geometry we learned at school.
A triangle, egg, cube of sugar
initiated us into a celebration of forms.
Circumferences only came later:
the first woman, and the first moon.

Where were you, loneliness,
that I never knew you before I turned twenty?
On trains, in mirrors, in photographs,
you are always at my side now.

Country people are less alone
because they are one with the land:
trees are their sons,
they see weather changes in their own flesh,
and are taught by the saints’ calendar of little animals.

This solitude is nourished by books,
solitary walks, pianos, and fragments of crowds,
by cities and skies conquered by machines,
sheets of foam
unfolding toward the limits of the seas.
Everything has been invented,
but nothing has been invented to deliver us from loneliness.

Playing cards guard the secret of garrets,
sobs are formed to be smoked away in a pipe,
and there have been attempts to inter solitude in a guitar.
It’s known that loneliness walks through vacant apartments,
has commerce with the clothing of suicides,
and confuses messages in the telegraph wires.


The window born of a desire for sky
has stationed itself in the black wall like an angel:
it’s friend to man,
a carrier of air.

It converses with pools of the earth,
with childlike mirrors of houses,
and tiled roofs on strike.

From high up, windows,
with their diaphanous diatribes,
face the multitudes.

The maestro window
diffuses its light into the night.
It extracts the square root of a meteor,
totals columns of constellations.

The window is the gunwale of earth’s ship;
a surf of clouds peacefully surrounds it.
The captain Spirit, eyes washed
by blue tempests, searches for the island of God.

The window distributes to everyone
a quart of light, a bucket of air.
The window, plowed by clouds,
is the small property of the sky.

Andrade with Nicanor Parra, 1972

Andrade, left, with poet Nicanor Parra (Chile), Stony Brook, New York 1968. Photo courtesy Enrique Qjeda, Boston College

The Return Journey

My life was a geography
I surveyed over and over again,
a book of maps or dreams.
In America I awakened.

Were these perhaps dreams of rivers and towns?
Was there nothing real about these countries?
Are there three steps in my journey:
dreaming, waking, and dying?

I’ve fallen asleep among statues
and upon waking found myself alone.
Where are the benevolent shadows?
Did I love and in truth was I loved?

It was a geography of dream,
a magical history.
I know by memory the islands and faces
visited or, perhaps, dreamed.

Upon the spoils of the universe
- fruit, woman, the immensity -
fell all of my inebriated senses,
like drunken pirates of the sea.

At last I found in harbor,
a naked girl, perfectly shaped:
in her great, tremulous water
I quenched my human thirst.

Later came the maiden of wheat,
the vegetal virgin;
but, always, from each door
the eternal Other called me.

From snow to palm tree
I saw cities of the earth
where God had cleaned the windows
and no one wanted to die.

I saw the arid earth of the bull
- last refuge of blue -
and a country where pine trees
raised their green obelisks to the light.

Did I dream this face on the wall,
that hand upon my skin?
This street of apples
and doves, did I dream it all?

The harbor like equal sections
of a crystal watermelon,
and islands like seeds:
was this a dream and nothing more?

Is this dust the mortal ash
that still clings to my feet?
Were they not harbors but years,
those places I anchored in?

Only in the most distinct languages
did I become fluent in solitude
and graduated as a doctor of dreams.
I came to America to awake.

Again, in my throat burns
the thirst to live, the thirst to die,
and so I humbly bend down
to this earth of maize.

Land of fruit and tombs,
sole property of the sun:
I come from the world - O great dream! -
with a map scrolled in my voice.

A Dream Of Farmhouses

My shadow, penetrated by dewy pastures,
by constellations imprisoned in farmhouses,
the breathing of sleeping men
in their temporary tombs,
advances down a road that discovers horizons.
The cosmic anguish of frogs pierces me,
the metaphysical frogs that converse with stars.
Each frog, counterfeiter of silence,
loses, one by one,
its copper coins.

Beneath the mountain is a nude river
like an archangel in its crystal suit of armor.
Listen: the horse lifts iron hooves
and with slow dance-like movements
plunges into the water of dreams.

Beloved land: I feel you living inside me
with the totality of your shapes and beings.
The murmur of your trees circulates among my bones.
While everything around me sleeps,
I work like a bee in the hive of the spirit.

Indian Rebellion

Refracted into brilliance,
last candles hiss
in the mountain’s rainy mist.

Village Indians carry sunrise
on the blades of their sickles
into the lowlands.

In steam from mountain ponchos,
the color of apples,
flutter birds and voices.

Wind from the highlands
descends in concave brims of hats
toward the lowlands, fat with sheaves.

In carts of air
mule driver roads carry clusters of songs
through the night.

The Indian rebellion carries morning
in the protest of their shovels.

“Biography For The Use Of Birds” and “Sunday” first appeared in Poetry. Copyright © 1998 by the Modern Poetry Association. “Loneliness of Cities” First appeared in The Marlboro Review. Copyright © 1998 by The Marlboro Review. “Biography” first appeared in Verse. Copyright © 2000 by Verse. “A Dream of Farmhouses” first appeared in Quarterly West. Poems reprinted with permission of the publishers.

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These translations are copyright © Steven Ford Brown and Jacket magazine 2000
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